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The legendary "Makarov" PM pistol in Soviet-Afghan War

Updated: Nov 20, 2023

The PM pistol became a legend in the later years of the cold war and it carries its legacy to this day. As for many other Soviet small arms, this is hugely due to the colossal production numbers. It will be incredibly hard to find a single post-Soviet person, who has any relations to military or law enforcement, and who does not have experience with the Makarov PM pistol. Yet, the numbers themselves do not make the magic - the design does. Continuing our work on the full list of small arms used by the Soviets in Afghanistan, in this article, we will discuss how relevant PM was during that time. If your interest on Soviet weapons of the Afghan era spans beyond the occasional article or two, we would welcome you to check our Soviet Infantry Weapons of the Afghan War book.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Makarov's Pistol

The brief history of PM

Ever since the First World War, most armies of the world put a lot of effort into arming themselves with short-barrelled weapons - revolvers and automatic pistols. While before WW1 pistols were reserved for the officers so they would stay armed without having to worry about the rifle and work on their primary duties, the trench warfare showed how important it is to be able to shoot more than one round before having to reload.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Soviet conscripts practicing on PM

During the Second World War, which was the defining conflict for the Soviet Army, the majority of pistols used were either Nagan revolvers or TT automatic. However, both of these pistols were somewhat outdated. After the end of the war, a new pistol with a better stopping power and of a smaller size was required to equip an evergrowing Soviet Army. The solution was the PM, a pistol designed by Nikolai Makarov in 1948 and adapted in 1951.

Since then, the Soviet industry managed to mass produce these pistols at such speed that by the end of the 1950s it was near impossible to find any army or police unit armed with anything else but the PM.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Soviet police with PM in white holsters

The order of issue - who was PM intended for

The Makarov PM was intended for the same role as pistols had been for years now. This was to arm all those servicemen who did not need a full-scale rifle as well as officers. However, in the Soviet Army, it was somewhat changed as almost everyone had an AK to himself.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Soviet officer on some official gathering

The initial idea was to arm all the officers, as well as those who operated heavy weapons - machine guns, grenade launchers, mortars, etc. So the PM was intended to be used as a regular last-resort self-defense weapon. However, it did not work from day one. In the 1950s the number of WW2 veterans still serving in the forces was high and these guys knew for sure, that a pistol is no substitute for a full-scale automatic weapon. While all those who were supposed to have pistols were regularly trained on their marksmanship skills, they rarely had any practical training in the field. Instead, pistols were rarely issued to any field training as all - just to make sure that they are not lost. More on the problem of pistols in the peacetime Soviet Army can be discovered in one of our earlier articles since here we are going to focus on the PM presence and usage in Afghanistan.

PM and its practical use in Afghanistan

The army which invaded Afghanistan was exactly the same army that existed in the USSR during the years of peace. This means, that all the pistols were issued as intended by the book, but at the same time, no one really had a habit of neither using them nor carrying them around.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Soviet officer in his dorm in Afghanistan

The fact that the pistols were issued as per all norms of wartime is interesting itself. This is mentioned in numerous memoirs. While officers were more or less confident with PM pistols, as they still had to carry them from time to time, the soldiers were almost never trusted with them and hence never carried them outside the pistol shooting range. So when pistols were issued prior to the invasion, most conscripts realized that things are about to get real.

The use of any pistols, including PM, in Afghanistan, was extremely limited due to the reasons discussed. For the same reason, it is almost impossible to spot PMs on the photos from the missions. Even more, there are not that many photos of PM pistols being carried around the base or on sentry duty.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Spring 1980, officer sleeping with his weapons

The pistols were sometimes used by inexperienced, usually young officers. This is mentioned in some memoirs. This makes sense, as there were plenty of people, who used to live by the book, so carrying a pistol on a mission seemed important to them. But after one or two real missions the new guy would realize that taking two extra AK magazines or another water flask would be way more practical.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
One of the officers is armed with PM

The only category of servicemen who actually had to rely on pistols for real were the helicopter and airplane pilots. Before the invention of the AKSU holsters, pilots only had their PM pistols to use in case of a crash landing. Some members of the helicopter crew were also armed with APS pistols, which still had limited capabilities in a real firefight. But we will discuss these in our next article.

Overall, while PM Makarov pistols were not widely used by the armed forces in the actual battles and in wars overall, it is still a cool piece to own in a collection. Furthermore, if you are reenacting an officer or a pilot, this is a must-have piece of kit.

PM makarov pistol afghanistan
Soviet helicopter pilots with special webbings

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